Last week the New York Times reported on My Micro NY, the winner of adAPT NYC, the city's micro-apartment pilot program/competition, which waived the current zoning prohibition on building smaller than 400 square feet. The My Micro NY building, which will go up this spring, will have nine stories with 54 units ranging from 250 to 370 square feet (rendering below). The project has been great from marketing perspective. It's thrown the national spotlight on smartly-designed, centrally-located and all-around innovative housing (it's being prefabricated across the East River in the Brooklyn Navy Yards). But in terms of making a difference, it's a drop in the bucket. The reality is that 54 of 8M New Yorkers will have access to some cool little digs. And for all the good intentions of the adAPT NYC program, zoning has yet to change.
One reason the adAPT NYC program is and was so popular was the location. New Yorkers love calling attention to themselves and are pretty good at doing so (note: author is a New Yorker). Yet in many ways, building small and dense is old hat in NYC. The 400 square foot ordinance dates from 1987. There are many, older sub-400 square foot dwellings, and tons of people already share small apartments. New Yorkers have been living micro for ages. The same holds true for other cities with notable micro-apartment buildings like San Francisco and Vancouver.
The real micro-housing news is not happening in dense cities with housing shortages and astronomical property values. It's happening in the medium-to-low density cities like Chicago, Spokane and Edmonton, places with bounties of big, affordable housing to choose from. The growth of micro-housing in these cities represents a real sea-change. It shows that people are willing to trade proximity to work and amenities for size; that people are seeing bikes and public transit as viable alternatives to cars; that people want to stop leveraging themselves to own a vessel to hold all their stuff.